POCATELLO — A trial date has been set for a former funeral home owner charged with 63 misdemeanors.
Lance Robert Peck, 48, is scheduled to stand trial for 60 counts of unprofessional conduct by a mortician and three counts of petty theft on Oct. 16, court documents show. Additionally, Bannock County Prosecutor Stephen Herzog told EastIdahoNews.com that felony charges are expected to be filed.
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Peck was arrested and charged on Aug. 30 following an investigation that lasted a full year. Herzog said the misdemeanor charges were filed first by his office due to the statute of limitations — the state had one year from the discovery of the alleged crimes to file those charges.
The statute of limitations is extended for felonies — to five years for charges the prosecutor’s office expects to file in this case.
Peck’s businesses, Downard Funeral Home and the attached Portneuf Valley Crematory were shut down after a search warrant was served on them in September 2021. During the search, officers and investigators found unrefrigerated bodies in varying states of decomposition.
Peck also lost his license to practice as a mortician.
At a hearing Monday, Magistrate Judge Aaron Thompson scheduled a jury trial for 8 a.m., Monday, Oct. 16.
Herzog could not give a timeline for the potential filing of felony charges.
Each misdemeanor charge carries a maximum sentence of six months in prison and a $1,000 fine.
Two civil suits
Lawsuits have been filed by two families affected by the investigation and alleged discovery of wrongdoing by Peck and Downard Funeral Home.
The first suit names Peck, Downard Funeral Home, Portneuf Valley Crematory and Peck, LLC., as well as Brad Horsley and Horsley Funeral Homes as defendants.
It alleges the family of William Phillips, Sr. contacted Horsley Funeral Home — a funeral home in Malad City — about cremating Phillips’ remains following his death on Dec. 22, 2020. Horsley, the suit further alleges, told Phillips’ family that he was unable to provide that service and offered to outsource the work through Downard.
Horsley, the lawsuit claims, had a “legal duty to ensure” that Downard properly cremated Phillips’ body.
Phillips’ family retrieved the urn they were told held the cremated remains of Phillips in January 2021. The lawsuit alleges the urn, instead, contains “some unknown substance” or the ashes of another body.
Not aware of that possibility at the time, the ashes the family received from Downard through Horsley were mixed with the ashes of Phillips’ wife — as had been requested prior to his death.
Following the search of Downard Funeral Home, Phillips’ family was informed that Phillips’ intact but decomposing body had been recovered inside the facility. The body was confirmed to be that of Phillips by his son, who had the “unwholesome task” of identifying the body, according to the lawsuit.
“Plaintiffs will have to live for the rest of their lives with the knowledge that they cannot perform William Sr.’s and his wife’s final wishes,” it says.
The second lawsuit names Peck and Downard as its defendants and was filed on behalf of the family of George Wilkerson.
Wilkerson, the lawsuit says, “had a long-standing interest in science,” and requested his body be used for research following his death from colorectal cancer on April 25, 2019.
Prior to his death, according to the lawsuit, Wilkerson and his family completed all documents necessary for his body to be donated to the Idaho State University cadaver program.
On April 26, 2019, Peck told Wilkerson’s family that the process of embalming and preparing Wilkerson’s body for donation had been initiated.
The family later learned that ISU never received Wilkerson’s remains and was unaware of the location of those remains.
On Sept. 6, 2022, Wilkerson’s family was informed that Wilkerson’s remains were part of the investigation into Peck and Downard.
Both lawsuits allege negligence and infliction of emotional distress among other civil violations.
Both lawsuits, filed in December and January respectively, demand for a jury trial and are early in the legal process.
District Judge Robert Naftz has been assigned to the first lawsuit and District Judge Javier Gabiola has been assigned to the second.